VOICES HER'D/ Feels Like Home, An Immigrant Journey



Groundswell Community Mural Project ©

Acrylic on Wall
12 x 158 Ft (with twelve 12 x 4 Ft pillars)

Lead Artist: Katie Yamasaki
Assistant Artist: Menshahat Ebron
Youth Artists: Nathalie Vargas, Ebony Thurman, Min Ting Liu, Yun Lu, Annie Wu, Jian Min Wu, Nancy Thai, Jasmine Marquez, Glenna Washington, San San Ng.

Location: PS 24, 4th Avenue & 37th Street, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Community Partner: Bilingual Magnet School



PS 24 is located in the heart of the largely immigrant Sunset Park. It is a bilingual magnet school that welcomes first and second generation Spanish speakers along with its local community. PS 24 is home to many immigrant families and was interested in a mural that reflected its population.

In keeping with the theme of Groundswell’s Voices Her'd series, of which this project was a part, the group decided to tell the stories of the immigrant mothers who come to New York City in search of a better life. They drafted a four page interview in English and translated it into Spanish and Chinese. They then invited mothers from the school and the neighborhood to come to the school for an interview. The girls also interviewed women from their own communities, often members of their families. From this interview imagery was created to narrate a universal story of immigration.

The mural is composed of two main components: the pillars that represent the people whose stories are being told, and the horizontal, monochromatic piece that represents landscapes from the homelands of the immigrants. The choice to use black and white is intended to represent the past. From left to right, the story begins with a pensive woman at night considering leaving her homeland. This is tied to the second image of women working and reflects reasons for leaving their often beloved home country. Reason cited include: hard work in the fields for little money, ill children due to lack of clean water, and civil unrest. The bluebird she holds is the symbol of happiness and fulfillment, also the state bird of New York.

The third column shows the difficulty of family separation so often caused by immigration. The sadness of the woman depicted may come from missing people who have already left the homeland, or over the anticipated longing for the people she will leave behind. Her tears fill the water that separates her from them. In her hands she holds symbols of native culture: the Chinese Buddha and a Mexican skeleton, and considers how cultures change and evolve away from the countries they come from.

The fourth column shows the physical journey to come to the United States and the fifth shows arrival in New York, with the overwhelming sense of hope, loneliness, and bewilderment that many feel when they first get to the city. This is followed by a column showing the work that many women pick up when the come to the city. Often this work is labor intensive and usually for low pay.

The seventh column shows the creation of new American families. This was a significant part of the interview, reflecting tremendous value and fear for parents. For many parents, to have American born children was often expressed as a primary reason for coming to the United States. This is, however, a bittersweet joy because if the parents are here illegally and are deported, the children stay and the family is separated. This was expressed as a primary fear among immigrant mothers.

The eighth column shows a mother protecting her child from the discrimination often experienced by immigrants. The political climate regarding immigration is often tense and remains a loaded issue. The mothers interviewed often felt that they needed to protect their children from this hostility. Often the anger directed to the family was absorbed by the mother in an effort to protect her child.

The ninth column shows the children becoming educated in English and Spanish, opening doors for their own futures. This image is contained within a mother who continues her menial job, thinking of how she can better her own life as well. As the mural closes, a mother considers her own situation and future possibilities. She begins to educate herself in an effort to better her future and the future of her family. As she improves her personal situation, she and her family move towards a brighter day.